What’s lurking underneath Tiananmen Square? It ain’t just rats. In 1969, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Mao commissioned the construction of an underground city, built right under Beijing. Fearing an imminent nuclear attack from the U.S.S.R, Dixia Cheng (地下城 the underground city) was meant to be a safeguard, designed to house 40% of the city’s 7.5 million in case of catastrophe. It was meant to have apartments, stores, and even a skating rink: all the comforts of above-ground home.
The nuclear bombs never came, but the remnants remain, a ghostly testament to what-could-have-been. Although part of it was opened as a tourist attraction, most of Dixia Cheng is officially unused (and officially forgotten) — and no one is even sure how far these underground caverns go.
It hasn’t prevented some enterprising individuals from illegally using the largely hand-dug structures (for storage, extra space, hide and seek).
Viceland visited the less-visible parts of the Beijing underground, complete with Communist propaganda, with vaguely creepy results.
P.S. Here’s a little factoid: The material used to build the tunnels? Beijing’s ancient city walls, dismantled during the Cultural Revolution.